Mr Speaker, may I, too, associate myself with your remarks about my right hon. Friend?
The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
Before I call the shadow Leader of the House, it might be helpful for the House if I say this: the Leader of the House has just announced that the Backbench Business Committee debate to be held on the morning of
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the remainder of the Parliament. In the blizzard of last-minute statutory instruments that have appeared on the Order Paper, the Registration of Consultant Lobbyists Regulations 2015 were laid on
The Government have a clear track record of avoiding scrutiny. On the European arrest warrant, on the Agricultural Wages Board and now on plain packaging of cigarettes, instead of trying to win the argument, they just try to avoid having it altogether. Last week, the Leader of the House rejected my request for a debate on plain packaging on the Floor of the House, and this week we can see why. A majority of Tory MPs failed to vote in favour of this common-sense measure to protect public health, including eight Ministers, three members of the Cabinet and even the Tory deputy Chief Whip. This morning, an analysis by The Independent has revealed that one in four MPs who voted against have declared links to the tobacco industry. Does it not say everything about today’s Tory party that a majority of its MPs is more interested in the rights of global tobacco companies than the health of Britain’s children? Is not the Prime Minister’s refusal to defend his record in the TV debates symptomatic of this Government? Instead of trying to win the argument, they just run away from it.
Next week, we will have the charade of the Chancellor’s pre-election Budget, which will reportedly contain large chunks of the Tory manifesto. Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us whether both parties of Government have signed up to it? It is clear that the real omnishambles is this Chancellor’s record. He has broken every promise and missed every target he has ever set himself on the economy. For the first time in nearly 100 years working people are worse off at the end of a Parliament than they were at the beginning. Not only would Tory plans cut public spending back to pre-war levels, the reality would be extreme and dangerous cuts of up to £70 billion.
The Prime Minister is an expert at evading scrutiny and the Chancellor yet again excused himself from Treasury questions this week, but I am sure that, as an honourable man, the Leader of the House will be willing to answer some simple questions. To meet their target, is it not the case that a Tory Government would have to cut spending on day-to-day public services by significantly more than they will admit? Is it not the case that to meet their target they will have to either raise VAT or cut the NHS? Is it not right that Mr Walker was speaking for growing numbers in the Conservative party when he said that he did not agree with protecting the NHS budget? Is it not also the case that Tory plans would mean that we would have the smallest police force since records began and the smallest Army since Cromwell?
There are only nine more days of this Parliament and I can see that the Leader of the House is eagerly counting them down. He has led his party, he has toured the world, he has become best mates with Angelina Jolie. However, in a rather disappointing end to his glittering career it seems that Conservative party headquarters has got him doing its e-mails. This week, in a message to Tory Members, he warned of the dangers of entering government on the coat tails of a small party that does not keep its promises. He should know quite enough about that already.
It has not been a good week for the Liberal Democrats either. They have been embroiled in a cash-for-access scandal, but the country is mainly just in shock that anyone wants to donate any money to them at all. Dr Huppert has apparently been sending leaflets out in his constituency that spell the word “failure” incorrectly. I would have thought that every single Liberal Democrat would know how to spell that word. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and the man in charge of their campaign, declared on the radio this morning that he was going to be very busy during the general election campaign and that he doubted he would get to do any campaigning. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Things are looking bad for the Prime Minister, too. His latest ploy to escape the scrutiny of the TV debates was to say that radio hosts can grill him “as hot as they like”. Mr Speaker, I prefer a long slow burn. There are just eight weeks to go until the general election and the only person from Chipping Norton who has come out fighting has just been suspended by the BBC.
I think the reference to a long slow burn was a reference to the shadow Chancellor’s personal life, although I think we can be confident that it would be a very rapid and immediate crash if he were to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not going to join the hon. Lady in making fun of my Liberal Democrat colleagues—I am going to wait for election night. [Laughter.] There will be a moment for all of us to join in that. I have enjoyed working with them immensely. It has been one of the high points of all the things I have done in my career to be able to work with them in government over the past five years. I will certainly continue to send out e-mails to people about the dangers of the coming together in government of a party that wants to bankrupt the country with a party that wants to break up the country. That is the real threat.
The regulations were carried by a very large majority in the House. I voted for them myself and I am pleased that they have been passed.
The hon. Lady asked about the register of lobbyists that is being set up under this Government, as is the declaration of transparency of all ministerial meetings with outside organisations. There have been very important improvements on this issue in the past few years.
The hon. Lady asked about the Budget. I can assure her that the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present next Wednesday will be agreed across the coalition: it will be the Budget of the coalition Government. We will, of course, all be able to set out in our party manifestos what we will do after the general election. When the Chancellor stands up to deliver the Budget on Wednesday, he will be highly unusual in the ranks of Chancellors of the Exchequer in the history of this country in being able to say that during his tenure nearly 2 million jobs have been created, that there is lower inflation than when he began, that he presides over the fastest growth in the G7, and that he has halved the deficit of this country. It is a very long time since a Chancellor of the Exchequer could stand up on Budget day with that as his starting point. That is what he will be able to do next Wednesday.
There will be four days to debate the Budget. That is a great deal of time, so there will be a great opportunity to explore all the issues the hon. Lady has raised. She asked about protecting the national health service budget. I seem to remember that the party that did not offer to protect the national health service budget at the last general election was the Labour party. Indeed, what has happened over the past five years is that its budget has been protected in England but cut in Wales, where it has been under the management of the Labour party— that is the advert. But there will be plenty of time to discuss these issues during the Budget debate.
It has been an interesting week for the Opposition. Shadow Ministers have briefed against their own disastrous tuition fees policies, saying they have other uses for £3 billion. Lord Mandelson has managed to brief against the entire Labour party, saying it will fail to win a majority. According to the New Statesman,the shadow Chancellor has briefed against the Leader of the Opposition, saying he has not grown into the job and he feels dreadfully sorry for him. The shadow Chancellor then managed the most unusual feat of briefing against himself, by setting out a number of scenarios for a future Conservative Government and then saying he disagreed with those scenarios. And the whole Labour party briefed against itself over whether to do a deal with the Scottish National party. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition sits rudderless in the middle, not knowing what to say. We hope at least that the shadow Leader of the House will rule out a deal with the SNP, as many of her own Back Benchers wish her to do—perhaps we can look forward to that at next week’s business questions.
I was sorry to learn of the challenging circumstances facing Blue Box and the shocking events that led up to them. We are committed to making it easier for charities and community groups such as Blue Box to gain access to the funding they need. The Cabinet Office is funding the “funding central” portal, a free service offering a simple, searchable database of funding opportunities for charities and community groups. We have also offered fundraising training for small charities. So I hope, through one or other of these means, Blue Box can find a sustainable way forward.
The Government are imposing a 25% cut on further education colleges, despite it having a disastrous impact on colleges. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to come to the House for a debate on the impact of this policy? Since 2010, my own college, Riverside college, has faced a 47% cut in its adult budget.
I cannot offer a special debate. As the shadow Leader of the House pointed out, there are only nine days of business left, nearly half of which time will be taken up with the Budget debates, but of course questions about spending and taxation can be highly relevant to those debates, so he might find the opportunity to raise the matter then.
Yes, it is my intention to give a valedictory response to the valedictory debate at the final valedictory moment of the Parliament. By the end of that, I think we will all be pretty confident we have said goodbye to each other.
For the avoidance of doubt, I intend to be back here after
There is an extraordinary mismatch between the amount of money raised by the licence fee and the BBC’s investment in the regions in which it is raised. May we have a debate on making it part of the charter negotiations that regional commissioners of programmes be matched to their areas, so that areas such as Birmingham and the midlands can get a fair share of the money raised?
The hon. Lady raises two interesting points. First, it might be that some Members are giving valedictory speeches who do not know they are—but it is up to the electorate to determine that.
Secondly, on the BBC, I absolutely agree that investment in the regions is vital and that the BBC has a varied record over the past few decades of doing it. The Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee made a statement to the House a few weeks ago about the future funding of the BBC, so the House had a limited opportunity to consider the matter then. Realistically, further consideration will have to await the new Parliament, of which the hon. Lady might or might not be a Member.
In reply to a written question on
I can tell my hon. Friend that the Government are publishing the review today. We have been working hard to prepare it, and we will place copies of it in the Library. We will write to Members, such as my hon. Friend, who have a particular interest in the subject, and we will follow that up with a written statement on Monday, so that the House is made fully aware of the publication. The subject of next Tuesday’s Adjournment debate is the report on asbestos in schools and I am sure that my hon. Friend will take a close interest in that.
Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the question of a statement by the Government on the future of the Chagos islands in respect of the feasibility of return report that has been done. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that tomorrow I am attending a meeting at the Foreign Office with Mr Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagos Refugee Association. Will he please ensure that between now and Dissolution, the Government make a statement on their policy on the right of return in order to allow the historical wrong of the expulsion of the islanders from those islands finally to be put right, as promised by his Government at the start of this Parliament. We were promised that a decision would be made in this Parliament. There is a week to go.
The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing champion of this cause and is very assiduous in pursuing it. As he knows and as we have discussed before, there has been an extensive and major report—one I initiated when I was Foreign Secretary—on the feasibility or otherwise of habitation of the Chagos islands or parts of them. That is being considered very seriously by the Government. I cannot guarantee to the hon. Gentleman a statement about it before Dissolution, given that we have nearly arrived there. I can tell him that the Government are giving detailed consideration at the highest level to the report, but I do not know when a decision will be made.
May we have a debate on phone hacking at the Mirror Group? I am surprised that I need to ask for one, as I would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition, given his considerable previous interest in phone hacking, would have been all over this like a rash. In such a debate, we could find out why the Labour party needed a judge-led inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, but does not raise a breath about the extensive phone hacking at the Mirror Group.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting comparison. It is important, of course, that all such allegations are fairly and thoroughly investigated, and we expect the relevant authorities to do so. There are many theories with which to answer my hon. Friend’s question. It could be that the Leader of the Opposition does not want to offend the one news organisation that is still arguing in his favour.
With Budget debates, we normally have a theme for each different day of debate, so we know who will be opening and winding it up. May we have as one theme the growing disparity between the wealthy people of this country and the rest of us, so that we have one day of debate in which the losers over these last five years—there are so many of them—can be compared with those who evade their taxes, evade their responsibilities and seem to get away with it?
Who opens which day of the Budget debate will, of course, be decided. Indeed, the Opposition often have a major influence on the decision. During the Budget debate there will be an opportunity to raise all those issues, and many others. I think that the everyday theme of the Budget debate will be that there are nearly 2 million more jobs in this country than there were five years ago. That is really the dominant theme of the British economy at the moment.
My right hon. Friend Sir George Young asked about this last week. It is true that February has stretched into March, and I am conscious of the commitment that was made to my hon. Friend, so I do intend to publish the proposed Standing Order changes.
May we have a statement from the Health Secretary about the Government’s plans to intervene in and support the most financially challenged NHS areas in England? As my hon. Friend Paul Farrelly told the Prime Minister yesterday, his area faces a £200 million deficit, and my own area of Devon faces a deficit of £430 million. I was told that an announcement would be made this week, alongside the new integration pilots, but that did not happen. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the Government are not seeking to bury bad news in the run-up to the general election?
The House has had innumerable opportunities to debate health matters over the last few months, and I am sure that they will be discussed further during the Budget debates. The national health service is benefiting from 9,500 more doctors and 7,500 more nurses than it had in 2010, but if my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has any further announcements to make before the election, he will of course be able to come to the House and make a statement in the usual way.
Southend police are doing a wonderful job in keeping local residents safe. Will my right hon. Friend find time for another debate on police funding? I very much want our excellent neighbourhood policing to be kept at its present levels.
Police reform is clearly working. According to the independent Crime Survey, crime has fallen by more than a fifth under this Government, and I am pleased to say that that includes a fall in Essex.
While we acknowledge that the police funding settlement is challenging, a further debate on it would allow us to point out that chief constables and police and crime commissioners have shown that it is possible to deliver more with less, and to prioritise available resources. However, the best remaining opportunity to pursue the issue on the Floor of the House during the present Parliament will be provided by the four days of debate on the Budget.
I remind the House of my membership of, and support from, Unite, which is recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters is a branch of that union.
Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on the proposed national framework agreement relating to language interpretation and translation services? I understand that the Crown Commercial Service is due to issue a tender for such services before dissolution, but there is serious concern about the effect of the framework on British sign language interpretation and on the profession. Will it be possible for a debate to take place before the tender is issued?
At this stage of the Parliament, it is difficult for me to arrange debates in addition to those that I have already announced, but I know from my own experience as Minister for Disabled People—a long time ago—what outstanding work sign language interpreters do, and how important that work is. The best that I can do to assist the hon. Lady is draw her question to the attention of my ministerial colleagues, and ask them to respond to her directly.
Town centres throughout the country are under pressure from internet purchasers and out-of-town retailers. They can respond either by doing nothing or by getting together to promote themselves and build up the trade, which is what traders and retailers in my constituency have done. They have launched a “first Thursdays” initiative, which began last week: there were street entertainers and musicians, and shops were open until eight o’clock in the evening. May we have a debate about the important role that town centres play in our communities?
I applaud everyone in Rugby for that initiative, and I applaud my hon. Friend for his strong support for it.
The Government are committed to helping high streets to adapt. Our Future High Streets Forum brings together business leaders from the various high street sectors so that they can understand the issues and drive forward new ideas. When people work together locally, they can really be successful in that regard. Although we will not have time for a specific debate before the dissolution of Parliament, the issue is very important, and I am sure that there will be further opportunities for Members to expand on it during the Budget debates.
The official data revealed today on the state of children’s mental health services is clearly shocking. Despite the Budget, we do not have an excess of business between now and the end of the Parliament, so will the Leader of the House organise one final debate so that we can agree a joint plan to tackle this disgrace? In that way we could end this Parliament by doing something genuinely worthwhile.
That is a very important issue. The hon. Gentleman makes a point about whether the parliamentary agenda is full between now and Dissolution, and I think it is, since there are many Bills that will come back from the House of Lords, there will be a Finance Bill to consider after the Budget and the Backbench Business Committee has utilised all its opportunities for further debate. But of course this will continue to be an important issue during and after the general election. The Government have a strong record on it: funding for mental health is estimated to have increased by £302 million in the last financial year compared to the previous one, and we have legislated to ensure that improving mental health and treating mental illness is given the same priority as treatment for physical health. So this Government have a strong record, but further debate is now most likely to take place in the next Parliament.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concerns of potential fracking across Ryedale. There is a grey area as the law currently stands, because the regulations to apply the Infrastructure Act 2015 will not now be brought forward until July, yet an application may be lodged by the end of this month. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that this grey area does not remain in place? The grey area relates to whether or not there will be opportunities to frack, or whether there will be protected areas. All the concessions that were given to the national parks, the sites of special scientific interest and the areas of outstanding natural beauty were withdrawn in the Lords.
Well, we have of course now passed the relevant legislation through Parliament, after considerable debate over the last few months. There will be further opportunities to raise these issues with my ministerial colleagues, because in the remaining days of the Parliament there will be questions to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government. That will provide the best opportunity for my hon. Friend to seek clarification on these issues.
The Leader of the House may be aware that Boris Johnson in his own inimitable way once said that he fought Clwyd South and that Clwyd South fought back, and he was helped in so doing by the Leader of the House.
My constituents in Clwyd South are rather concerned because this time the Conservatives have selected a councillor, David Nicholls, who is a commercial lawyer of the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. There is much concern that he may get lost around our 240 square mile constituency. We are confident that the Leader of the House knows the constituency rather better than the said gentleman, so could he find a little time to come across from his retirement home in mid-Wales and show the gentleman around?
I think the hon. Lady was also asking for a statement, but whether she was asking for one or not, she is going to get one.
I think that was a question not about the business of the House of Commons, but about the general election campaign, but I am sure this candidate will be a splendid candidate for Clwyd South, as Boris Johnson was—I remember that very well. I assure the hon. Lady that I will be stepping out from my new home in mid-Wales to support Conservative candidates the length and breadth of Wales, to help continue the very strong performance in recent years of the Welsh Conservative party.
The technical answer to my hon. Friend is that when Parliament is dissolved, it is normal at the same time to set out when it will meet again. Indeed, the writs that go out around the country requesting new Members of Parliament will set out when those Members should report to the House of Commons. That happens then, however, and it is not for me to set out such details now. I hope that there will be no doubt whatever about who is the next Prime Minister or about which party has the majority in the House of Commons, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be part of that majority. I do not think it would be helpful to get into other, more chaotic scenarios when discussing the outcome of the election. One has to think about them only for a moment to understand the importance of averting the possibility of their happening at all.
I should like to draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 633.
[That this House believes that asylum seekers should be homed widely in the country to assist community assimilation and to share fairly the strains and burdens on services that newcomers create; is astonished that Cardiff has 976 section 95 migrants, double the total in all of South East England outside of London and that Newport has 391, while the constituency of the Home Secretary has one and those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister have none; and calls on hon. Members to encourage their areas to accept their responsibilities and welcome at least the average total of migrants homed elsewhere
The motion seeks the better assimilation of asylum seekers by spreading them more evenly throughout the country so that all areas can have the benefits and the burdens of having asylum seekers. At the moment, Cardiff has about 900 section 95 asylum seekers and Newport has nearly 400, yet the constituency of one of the United Kingdom Independence party MPs has none and the constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary have a grand total of two. Would it not be a great advantage if those who were shouting the loudest about immigration could have the experience of having asylum seekers in their constituencies? In that way, they might know what they were talking about.
I think the hon. Gentleman has made his point without a debate. Indeed, he has conducted a short debate on the issue. There will not be time for a debate in the remaining days of this Parliament, although there will be Home Office questions on
While I accept the success of the cancer drugs fund, recent changes have resulted in the drug regorafenib, which is effective against gastro-intestinal tumours, no longer being funded. One of my constituents, whose partner suffers from a rare form of cancer, has collected more than 45,000 signatures in support of the drug’s reinstatement. It is a last resort that offers treatment when others have failed, and it gives patients precious extra time until a lasting cure can be found. Given that we are running out of time in this Parliament, can the Leader of the House advise me on how we can get this matter debated?
There is little scope for additional debates, as I have been saying in relation to other issues, but I can tell my hon. Friend that NHS England, which manages the cancer drugs fund, has assured the Department of Health that no patient whose treatment is currently being funded through the cancer drugs fund will have their funding withdrawn as long as it is clinically appropriate that they continue to receive that treatment, and that in addition no drug will be removed from the fund when it is the only therapy available for the condition in question. Furthermore, clinicians can still apply for individual patients to receive a particular drug on an exceptional basis. I would recommend that my hon. Friend pursues the matter directly with Ministers at the Department of Health in order to get further details.
In recent weeks, a constituent of mine travelled to Kenya, where immigration control accidentally swapped her passport with someone else’s. When she attempted to travel back, she was refused entry to the plane, but the person who had her passport had already returned to the United Kingdom. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to tell us what measures are in place to ensure that this does not happen?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about that. Border Force officers carry out comprehensive checks on all passengers arriving at passport control, and those checks are set out in an operating mandate approved by Home Office Ministers. They are, of course, meant to include a visual examination of the passenger and their passport to ensure that they are the right holder of the document. The best way to pursue this is for my hon. Friend to give me all the details and I will ensure that it is dealt with by my ministerial colleagues as a matter of urgency.
As I have previously mentioned in the House, my constituent Laura Thomas was tragically killed in an accident with a truck whose driver was using a mobile phone at the time. The current sanctions for such dangerous driving are too lenient, as are the penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone. May we have a debate on the need to discourage, through stiffer penalties, the epidemic of using hand-held phones while driving?
My hon. Friend is assiduous in raising this important issue, highlighting the devastating impact that driving while on a mobile phone can have. The Government remain concerned about this. The Department for Transport has commissioned research on the prevalence of such phone use and the report of the survey was published on gov.uk on